When did the fire start?

The fire broke out just after midnight on Sunday 8 September 2019 at Amey’s Waste Management Park at Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire.

How did the fire start?

The fire started in newly arrived non-recyclable waste which was in our holding area prior to being processed and landfilled, most likely from a Cambridgeshire Household Waste Recycling Centre, which take waste material from members of the public.

Why was the waste in a holding area?

Holding areas are designed specifically to ensure that any smouldering waste or sources of ignition which may arrive at the site from delivered waste can be identified, isolated and extinguished before treatment or landfilling, and our protocols worked well and prevented a more serious incident. While unfortunate, it is important that we recognise the fact that this fire was identified and isolated in a secure facility and did not occur anywhere where members of the public could have been injured.

How was it handled and how long did the fire last?

Both Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service and Amey’s teams moved quickly to isolate the fire and make the area safe. It was then rapidly brought under control: the area of the site affected was handed back to Amey within 12 hours of it first being detected and was declared to be extinguished on Monday morning. It had no impact on collection, treatment and disposal operations.

What was the cause of the fire?

We are still investigating the exact cause of the fire, however, it seems likely that it was caused by either some form of smouldering waste (such as a disposable barbecue) that had been transferred from a household waste recycling centre, or from lithium-ion batteries being disposed of by businesses in construction waste.

How were members of the public alerted?

When an incident such as a fire occurs on any site, the Fire Service takes control and issue any advice or guidance through existing emergency and community channels. This includes alerting the media where necessary and, in this case, advising local residents to keep windows closed as a precaution. Their advice worked well, and we are grateful to Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service for their rapid assistance over the weekend.  

What steps were taken to protect human health and the environment?

We worked closely with the Environment Agency to ensure that everything possible was done to protect human health and the environment, which remains our first priority. We continue to engage with the Environment Agency and other relevant regulatory bodies to ensure our waste treatment operations and safety procedures remain leading examples of best practice in our sector.

What about the emissions from the fire?

It is important that we address several misconceptions that commonly arise during incidents like this. On social media, it has been suggested that the smoke from the fire was similar to that which residents would experience permanently in the event that an Energy from Waste (EfW) facility is given planning permission and is operated on the site. This is not true. EfW is an extremely well controlled process, which undergoes continuous monitoring to ensure emissions are below levels which are set to protect human health and the environment.

How could the impact of fires be reduced?

The advice of Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service was to let the fire burn out, and this advice was heeded by Amey. However, in the event of smouldering material being received on site, if the material was due to be treated through an Energy from Waste facility, then this would eliminate the problem as the material could rapidly be moved from the reception hall to the furnace.

I am concerned about the impact of the fire on local air quality. How do I report health concerns?

If you would like to report an environmental or health concern relating to the Waterbeach Waste Management Park, please contact the Environment Agency on 03708 506 506. Further details for contacting the Environment Agency can be found at: http://apps.environment-agency.gov.uk/contact/

What can members of the public do to help?

Our industry has asked repeatedly for members of the public and businesses to be both vigilant and more careful when disposing of waste, in particular disposable barbecues and lithium-ion batteries, and we will be repeating these messages in local communications. We ask members of the public to dispose of non-recyclable waste carefully and considerately.

What happens next?

Amey is committed to learning lessons from the events of Sunday 8 September and will continue to work with our client, and the UK’s relevant statutory bodies to continually review and, if necessary, amend our safety protocols. We will also continue to engage with the public and local businesses to remind them of the importance of disposing of waste safely.